A woman has sued a South Portland retirement home claiming she was fired from her job as a housekeeper in May 2020 for reporting that her supervisor went to Massachusetts and did not quarantine after her return.
At the time, people who returned to Maine after traveling were required to quarantine for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, then in its early stage. Residents were encouraged not to leave the state except for emergencies.
Navy Oum, 51, of Portland claims that the Sable Lodge Retirement Community, LLC, discriminated against her based on her race and violated the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Maine Human Rights Act and the Maine Whistleblowers Act when it fired her.
Oum, who is Asian, was hired in October 2018. She also claimed in her lawsuit that her supervisor “mocked” her accent and called her a “troublemaker.”
Oum’s lawsuit is among a growing number of labor lawsuits nationwide alleging coronavirus-related labor and employment violations. Her case also points to alleged anti-Asian discrimination, which research has shown picked up across the country following the start of the coronavirus pandemic and an emphasis on the virus’ Chinese origins, particularly in conservative media outlets.
Anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 339 percent last year over 2020’s numbers, according to data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Oum reported her supervisor’s failure to quarantine before returning to work on May 13, 2020, out of fear for “her own health, welfare and that of her coworkers and of the elderly population at the Sable Oaks facility,” the complaint said. She was fired that same day, her attorney Jeffrey Bennett of South Portland, said Monday.
“Navy was told by her employer that she was terminated for reporting that her supervisor failed to quarantine for 14 days before returning to work from Boston,” he said. “During her full term of employment, Navy was regularly subjected to derogatory comments and ridicule for her Asian accent.”
The attorney representing Sable Lodge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Oum is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, including the wages and benefits she would have earned had she remained on the job.
The lawsuit initially was filed in December in Cumberland County Superior Court. Sable Lodge moved it to U.S. District Court in Portland last week.
A trial date has not been set.